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Submitted by m3jimphoto on Thu, 07/14/2011 - 6:09pm

Down in Monterey

I  learned so much from Jim about the dark and the light sides of life, living in the moment, taking advantage of what the world presents to you.  Just being in his orbit, I saw how instinctual choices can make all the difference and how one never knows where the next person you meet in life will take you.

Nowhere is Jim’s approach to work and life more evident, in my opinion, than in the way he chose to document the myriad festivals, across all major musical genres, of the ’60s and early ’70s.

While the precise number of people who came will never be known, total attendance for the 3-day event was estimated at 200,000 with a peak of 90,000 on Saturday night.

As I said in last week’s blog, we will be dipping into Jim’s visual highlights from a vast array of those watershed musical and cultural events over the next month or two, and we’ve chosen to start with some lesser known and never-before-seen images from my favorite classic festival (and Jim’s): The Monterey International Pop Music Festival of 1967.

A three-day festival held June 16-18 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Northern California, Monterey Pop was organized in seven weeks by some of rock’s LA royalty: promoter Lou Adler, John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, producer Alan Pariser, and publicist Derek Taylor.  The goal: to bring together the most eclectic assortment of musical lights to ever grace a stage and elevate rock music’s standing from pop gimmick to world-class, world-changing art form.

The promoters and organizers behind Monterey had a big vision and the savvy to pull it off and, in my opinion, one of the smartest things they did was let Jim have full run of the place.  His pictures, well documented in “Monterey Pop,” the book he did with famed SF music critic Joel Selvin, captures this magnificently.  And while I have no way of knowing for sure, I just bet that if you were somehow able to poll the collectors of Jim’s work, shots made at Monterey would be in the majority of those hanging on walls around the world.  Enough said.

I think Eric Burdon, co-founder and lead singer of The Animals, who performed on the festival’s first day said it best in his classic hit “Monterey”:

The people came and listened
Some of them came and played
Others gave flowers away, yes they did
Down in Monterey
Down in Monterey

Young Gods smiled upon the crowd
Their music being born of love
Children danced night and day
Religion was being born
Down in Monterey

The birds and the airplane did fly
Oh, Ravi Shankar’s music made me cry
The Who exploded into fire and light
Hugh Masakela’s music was black as night

The Grateful Dead blew everybody’s mind
Jimi Hendrix baby, believe me, set the world on fire, yeah
His Majesty, Prince Jones, smiled as he moved among the crowd
Ten thousand electric guitars were grooving real loud, yeah

You want to find the truth in life

Don’t pass music by
and you know I would not lie, no I would not lie,
No, I would not lie
Down in Monterey

Three days of understanding of moving with one another
Even the cops grooved with us
Do you believe me, yeah?
Down in Monterey

I think that maybe I’m dreaming
Down in Monterey
Did you hear what I said?

Submitted by m3jimphoto on Thu, 07/07/2011 - 3:23pm

A Festival of Riches

Summer here in the SF Bay Area has finally kicked in full time, meaning we have days that start out foggy and 50 degrees and end up 90 degrees … mercurial, you might say, just like Jim.  It’s got us here at Jim Marshall Photography LLC thinking about road trips, cold ones, food trucks and, primarily, kickass music festivals.

Searching Jim’s archives using “music festivals” as the filter is at once exhilarating and overwhelming.  From 1960 to the early ’70s Jim seemed to never stop shooting.

He must have been a blur of non-flashing Leicas, using 35mm film and a handful of fixed lenses (more often than not for the off-stage stuff a 50mm lens) to seemingly be everywhere, perfectly positioned, all the time, snapping one great moment after another.

And music festivals across all genres — onstage and off — were the source of some of his best, most-exhilarating moments and discoveries … and some of his greatest work.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because it remains the one defining truth of Jim’s career: this body of work exists because of the trust and relationships that Jim built with these artists, and, it needs to be mentioned, their managers, agents, roadies, spouses, families, groupies, record labels … really the whole swirling maelstrom of money and magic that accompanied these artists and underpinned the making of these moments.

If you ever hung out with Jim for more than 10 minutes in a club, bar or restaurant when he was “on” you saw his networking and connecting ability in action.  Because he was such a weird combo of renaissance man and street kid, he seemed to be able to connect with just about anybody, nearly instantly.

And once that connection was made, trust was right around the corner.  If I saw him do it once, I saw him do it a hundred times and yet it never ceased to amaze me.  And, though I wasn’t old enough or lucky enough to see him pull it off during his prime, there is always the work itself with which to console myself.

Throughout the next few months while we are all under summer’s sway, we will delve deeper into the archive to share some of Jim’s most iconic images as well as great, lesser-known moments, all of them captured at festivals during the height of Jim’s powers as a photographer, when live music history met its most discerning documentarian.

Festivals great and small

Here’s a quick overview of just some of the now-historic festivals Jim documented over those years accompanied by a handful of Jim’s hero shots, just to give you a taste of what’s to come:

Woodstock 1969
Monterey Pop Festival 1967
Monterey Jazz Festival 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967
Newport Pop Festival 1968
Newport Folk Festival 1963,1964, 1969
Newport Jazz Festival 1963, 1964
Northern California Folk/Rock Festival 1968, 1969
Northern Carolina Blue Grass Festival 1969
Big Sur Folk Festival 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969
Dripping Springs 1972, 1973

Submitted by m3jimphoto on Thu, 06/30/2011 - 9:01pm

Jim's Enduring Triumph

I remember a visit to SF in the early 1990s on my way home from covering a conference in Australia.  In addition to the writing thing, I had shot a ton of film (slides and Tri-X, remember those?) and Jim graciously offered to zip me around town on his Triumph bike: back and forth to the lab, to lunch, running errands, etc. He was psyched because, after a long time without one, he had gotten himself another Triumph Bonneville, featuring the vanity plate: GORT JR., a wink toward the GORT plate he had on his Shelby Mustang.  It was right around the time that California passed its version of a mandatory helmet law, and Jim was adamant in his opposition, livid really.  Ever the free choice-loving libertarian, he said he would NEVER wear a (insert your version of f bombs here) helmet and even threatened to quit riding altogether.  They could just ticket his ass, he said, and anyway he couldn’t ride with a helmet because it “didn’t feel right” and messed with his peripheral vision and made him a distinctly less safe rider. So there we were zipping around SF, helmetless, and I remember it felt great.  He had these big ole sunglasses and, when he took them off, you could see how swarthy he could get from the tan he was sporting on that big ole proboscis.  Jim was a confident rider and, other than having to put up with his sly remarks about how great I felt and to hold him tighter, he was far less aggressive (thankfully) than he was in an automobile. In doing some research for this blog, most folks I talked to about bikes said there are “car people” or “motorcycle people,” meaning even if a person collects both or is passionate about both, one is always closer to his or her heart.  Jim was a car guy, in my opinion, but he had a rare spark for those classic British Triumphs and their right-hand shifters (the opposite of American bikes).  In fact, he would never ride American bikes, saying he learned on a Triumph and his brain couldn’t make the shift (so to speak) to left-hand set ups, and besides he damn near killed himself the one time he tried. Jim just LOVED the Triumph Bonnevilles and had Triumph factoids he liked to spout, such as that in the classic WWII POW film “The Great Escape” Steve McQueen made his escape on a seriously modified Triumph made to look like a German Army bike. I spoke with Jim’s longtime friend and fellow photographer, Tom Zimberoff, himself no slouch when it comes to a passion for motorcycles.  Check out his fantastic 2006 book “Art of the Chopper” and the corresponding exhibit currently in Kansas City if you happen to be in that neck of the woods.

“The Bonneville motorcycle was a tribute to the past,” Tom points out.  “There was such a mystique and aura around the ’60s and motorcycles were such a key part of it.  Sure Nortons and BSAs were around, but back then there were really two choices in the U.S., you either had a Triumph or a Harley.  Jim seemed to relish having the Bonneville, maybe it was the homage to the Salt Flats and the speed trials.  He used to say he felt like he was missing something if he didn’t have one.  I thought that it kept Jim connected to the ’60s, to that time of his life when he did his best work, maybe when he was most alive.” Jim’s last bike, according to the Rodder Journal article was “a gorgeously restored British Racing Green and yellow Triumph Bonneville motorcycle in his garage.”  Tom also told me that Jim kept a seat for that last Bonneville in that same garage, even after he sold the bike.  Maybe the seat was broken and the new buyer didn’t want or need it, but I prefer to think that Jim just needed to keep a little piece of that bike, to try to stay connected to that wild, helmet-less, brilliant young ride.

Submitted by m3jimphoto on Thu, 06/23/2011 - 8:23pm

Jim Always Wanted a Mercedes

It was the mid ’90s, I was married and running my own new media company in downtown NYC when Jim, after winning a sizable copyright abuse settlement for yet another rip off of his “Johnny Cash Flipping the Bird” shot, decided to use that dough to acquire the next car of his dreams: a silver Mercedes C36 AMG 1996 edition.

Jim turned 60 that year but it seemed to me that the Mercedes was Jim’s mid-life crisis car: most guys get sports cars when the old belly starts to pouch, the hair thins, the vitality ebbs, but what if you’ve been driving hot rods and race cars since before you had a driver’s license?  You get yourself one of the world’s fastest sedans, tuned and tweaked on the Autobahn, of course.  Most guys of his generation had mid-life crises when they were 40, not 60, but after five months of me cranking out these blogs I hope it has become abundantly clear: Jim was not most guys.

Oh, Lord, Won’t You Buy Me ...

AutoWeek’s Dutch Mandel again helps me out with the Mercedes facts and figures: “When Cadillac introduced a CTS-V Series sedan, a potent production car, Jim got very close to pulling the trigger on putting it in his garage.  But General Motors wanted something like $60,000 and he thought that was too much money.  Besides, he said, ‘I got the best fuckin’ car for the money in my Mercedes.’

“Jim was right.  He was an extremely proud owner of a Mercedes C36, I believe of ’96 vintage, a ferocious factory-built – and then rebuilt – hot rod whose German racing pedigree made it the darling of car cognoscenti.  And then Jim did what Jim did best: He stuffed it with seriously stealthy equipment that in many states would get him thrown in the slam for yet another stint.

“The C36 was special in that it was a hot rod sporting a factory warranty. The company built an entry-level C-Class, shipped the “body-in-white” to an in-house tuning firm called AMG, who built the car to their exacting and powerful specifications.  The 268-hp, six-cylinder engine filled the car with extraordinary quickness and top-end speed. I know this because my father also owned a C36, he called it ‘Dr. Rocket’ — interesting they both owned one since only about 300 were imported to the U.S.”

I must interrupt Dutch for a minute to point out that Jim’s vanity plate on the Mercedes was: 1 OF 900.  We had thought that was how many were imported, but perhaps it was the total made that year? Total ever?  If anybody can solve the riddle we’re all ears. “Jim liked his C36 because it looked Plain Jane and went like stink,” Dutch recalls, “He liked it because he could fit it in the garage of his rent-controlled apartment house, ‘with about two fuckin’ inches of room, total, on either side.’  He liked it so much that when Jim drove it hard — and blew up the engine because of his antics — he called Mercedes and ordered another engine for it … and somehow got the factory to pay for it, saying it was still under warranty.

“With Jim’s ‘appreciation for law-enforcement’ he wanted to make sure he knew where his friends in blue were at all times.  Jim hardwired a hidden grill-mounted radar detector and “jammer.”  I believe he also installed a theft-deterrent device that went beyond the factory-alarm; who knows: he might have been able to electronically summon a pack of slavering pit bulls if someone screwed with his ride.

“Jim showed me all this on the one time I rode with him through San Francisco.  I swore immediately it would be my last ride as passenger with him when he got the car sideways by using the accelerator, grabbed the steering wheel with one hand, climbed to 70 mph in a short city block and then reached somewhere under his seat to show me a firearm he kept at the ready.”

Submitted by m3jimphoto on Wed, 06/15/2011 - 7:02pm

The Day the Earth Stood Still

When I met Jim in March of 1984, he was down on his luck, to say the least. Instead of a Spitfire or Jaguar, Jim was driving “Truck,” a venerable (dare I say beat to hell) ’60s era Ford Ranchero. Jim was very loyal to that car/truck hybrid, especially because he could get commercial plates allowing him to park in yellow loading zones in San Francisco’s notoriously impossible to park in commercial areas during the workday.

But it was another kind of Ford that he was truly in love with … and heartbroken about: the Shelby Mustang GT350.  I never got to meet Jim’s Shelby. In fact, I believe he had two Shelbys,  both made in 1966, both with the vanity plate: “GORT,” after the robot in the classic ‘50s sci-fi movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still," Jim’s aboslute favorite movie of all time.

It was that second Shelby that Jim told me he had to sell to pay his lawyer’s fees after the gun bust in 1983 and, as he put it, “Keep my ass out of jail.”  He had no choice, but you could tell he pined for that car, which he had so perfectly customized for himself. I’m still getting the details about just how tricked out Jim’s Shelbys were, but here’s what I know so far: custom British racing green paint job, Boss 309 engine, Hurst shifter, Recaro seats, and a Nardi wooden steering wheel.

Here are a few of Jim’s own recollections about both of his Shelbys from that ever-useful Rodder Journal article:

“And, later, a couple of GT Shelbys, one ran 12.50s with a Boss 302 we swapped in. Spectre Racing built the engine. ‘We put a 4.11 rear in that street Shelby’ — and in a high revving Marshall stream-of-thought commentary — ‘and John Wasserman, the (San Francisco) Chronicle’s (performing arts) critic bought a Boss 429 from S&C Ford just about the same time as I bought my Boss 302.  They were both stolen within two days of each other.  Inside job.  Yeah, I beat Steve McQueen in that Shelby when he was here to make “Bullitt.”  Smoked him.’ ”

Dutch Mandel has this to add about Gort and Shelbys in general: “That is no ordinary Mustang.  At the time the Shelby GT350 was one of the most powerful production cars of the day.  It was a car that Texas race driver and entrepreneur Carroll Shelby built up with the assistance of Ford Motor Co. to kick the ass of Chevrolet’s Corvette on the race track and on the street.  The car was popular enough that even the Hertz rental car company got into the business of renting these cars… for a while. The black and gold Hertz GT350s quickly became parts cars for race drivers who would rent them, take them to the track, pull the engine and put them in their own race cars, race ‘em for the weekend and put the engine back in the rental. Needless to say, Hertz caught on quickly.”

Famed rock photographer Andrew Kent met Jim in 1968 at the Hollywood Bowl at an Odetta and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott concert and they became great, lifetime friends, bonding over guns, music, fast cars and Triumph motorcycles.

“For a time, Jim was one of my closest friends and without a doubt is the craziest person I ever met. He was unique among all men. That Shelby was fast like hell.  I remember we used to drive around San Francisco and it was amazing how fast he could get it going.  We’re driving in the Mission and within one block he had it up to 110 mph, the sound of it on a city street, can you imagine!

“I gave up touring and moved from LA to Sun Valley, Idaho in 1978. I was always bugging Jim to take a road trip to come and see me. Finally, he did.  It’s a 14-hour drive from SF and he shows up and along the way the car’s thermostat started acting up, running a little bit hot, a little bit cold.  I mean the car lives at sea level and now it’s at altitude … I didn’t think it was any big deal, but Jim goes absolutely bonkers. He goes to every mechanic in the area to try and get it right.  Nothing works.

“The next day he gets in the Shelby and drives all the way back home. He was supposed to stay a week.  But that was Jim.”

It certainly was.  Jim had a unique way of summing up to me his tumble from the pinnacles of success he knew in the ’60s and ’70s: “You’re always on the mountain when you fall.”  Or apparently when your Shelby’s thermometer goes on the fritz.  

Submitted by m3jimphoto on Wed, 06/08/2011 - 7:30pm

Jim Liked to Go Fast

There was an integral part of Jim that always liked fast things and things that made his heart race, whether it was cars, guns, women, music, drugs.  But maybe it started innocently enough back when he discovered he was an above-average runner – he was a miler in high school and told me that, for a time, he held the record for the mile in the Air Force.

In fact, he has said many times that the first time he took serious note of a photographer (not just obsessing about the cameras, but the act of using them to document the decisive moment) was when a photographer shot him at the finish line, winning one of his high school track meets.

What sticks in my mind most is how rueful Jim was that he couldn’t go faster, that he had decent endurance but he didn’t have sprinter’s speed and thus wasn’t truly competitive at the highest levels.  Perhaps it was running all those laps not as fast as he wanted, but Jim definitely seemed to need to drive around in circles (and straightaways and S curves, etc.) as fast as mechanically possible … and then some.

Today’s blog focuses on a couple of “Jim with Car” shots that we’ve dug up from the archive, accompanied by some thoughts from a dear friend of Jim’s, Dutch Mandel, associate publisher and editorial director of AutoWeek.  Dutch goes way, way back with Jim, and graciously provided the following insights and recollections to help offset my woeful ignorance:

“Jim earned this love for cars the old-fashioned way, by growing up in the racing hotbed of Northern California.  British cars were being imported into the U.S. by a guy named Kjell Qvale.  Jim worked at Qvale’s Burlingame car dealership in the back shop, pushing a broom.  He told a story of working at the same dealership as another guy who would take his car knowledge and put it to different, creative means … my father, Leon Mandel, who sold cars at that same British Motors of Burlingame, Calif., dealership.”

Dutch went on to recall, “Jim brought his budding photojournalism efforts to the Half-Moon Bay drag strip as a boy of 16; he captured some of the great and soon-to-be great racers of an era in their nascent careers (see previous blog and Rodders Journal feature on Jim).  He grew up with them and captured some of the best and the brightest drivers that campaigned cars along the Northern California coast.” About the red sports car, Dutch has this to say: “That is a Triumph Spitfire. That repose is one that many Triumph owners knew: The car is British and is notoriously unreliable. So ‘stopped’ is its natural form.  He obviously was catching some rest and used it as a backstop.”  I uncovered Victor Kahn’s groovy site that has a still captured from the “Woodstock” movie of backstage on Day 1, where you can clearly see Jim from the back with the sleeves on his jacket still intact, check it out. And about the self-portrait of a very tan, very cool Jim at a race track back in the day, Dutch notes: “Looks as though it was in the late ’60s-early ’70s, taken at the first corner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The interesting thing about the shot is that tree in the background; so oblivious to safety were the owners of the Speedway – heck, everyone was at that time – that they allowed this tree to remain standing.  It wasn’t there for shade but aesthetics.  And imagine how aesthetically pleasing it would be if you wrapped a race car around it?  A death trap, for sure.  Jim liked Indy – it was the cultural experience, the notion of Americana.” Sure, an Assyrian-Armenian punk terrorizing the streets in highly customized European sports cars … what could be more American than that, I ask you?

Submitted by m3jimphoto on Thu, 06/02/2011 - 7:53pm

Jim Loved Cars

The tagline on the Jim Marshall Photography LLC website and blog is Cars, Guns and Cameras … and there is a reason Jim always listed cars first.  In my opinion these fast, sleek beauties were the true love of Jim’s life.  Even though he was cutting out pictures of cameras and pasting them into scrapbooks at the age of 6 or 7, I think cars – the mechanical qualities, and especially the power and simple, elegant, loud-assed danger of hot rods – blew right past cameras as an object of his obsessive affection. And, as this blog follows immediately on the heels of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 and with the 79th Le Mans 24 Hour Race slated for June 11-12, we thought this month was the right time to focus on this lesser known side of Jim’s love life. Jim’s fascination with hot rods was captured in a feature with Jim’s photos by Michael Dobrin for Rodder Journal #21, a quarterly for hot rod enthusiasts, which focused on his early days as a driver/photographer of the scene.  I find it interesting the piece didn’t talk more about Jim’s driving but rather focused on his documenting of the scene.  Maybe that was Jim’s preference.  He could be weirdly deferential, almost shy or self-deprecating, about his rather prodigious talents as a driver.  Maybe it was because his fame and infamy with cameras and guns had far eclipsed these original skills. I guess we’ll never know.

All I know is that one of the few things he ever gave me and then had the audacity to take back was, yes, another coat.  This one an extremely cool red boiled-wool jacket with leather sleeves (a riff on the classic letterman’s jacket from the ’50s); only this coat was not from college but a prize he earned by being the best driver or having the fastest lap or some such at a meet at the long-gone Fremont Raceway, which was located on the west side of Hwy. 880, approximately where Fremont’s Auto Mall Park is now.  The coat has “Jimmy” embroidered on it on the left side over his heart.  Imagine, there was a time when he was just “Jimmy,”  a self-described punk from the Western Addition.

Here’s an excerpt from the Rodder Journal feature:

“What’s not generally known about Marshall, however, is that his passion for cars was, by the mid-’50s, manifest in a series of street rods and hopped-up sports cars. And that his motoring mania led him to document with that little Leica the vibrant seminal drag racing scene on Northern California strips like Half Moon Bay, Vacaville, and Fremont. He was on the scene, too, at local road race venues like Laguna Seca to freeze on film the human drama of noble sports racers like Phil Hill, Richie Ginther, Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, Chuck Daigh and Stirling Moss.

“Marshall might’ve honed his crisp verite documentary style on Northern California drag strips and road racing circuits, although he admits to “messing up” a lot of film in those early days. “His first real hot rod ride was a yellow ’40 Ford coupe.  (It) had an 1⁄8 x 1⁄8 over flathead in it. Bought the car for $300 and took out the Ford three-speed and put in a LaSalle box. It had Weiand heads and manifold, an Isky cam and Belond headers.  ‘I used to go racing with Ted Muckey who had a hot ’32 five window B Fuel coupe. We’d go out on the Great Highway (which was then a wide, unobstructed four-lane northand-south roadway along Ocean Beach on The City’s western edge — ed.) and race with the Hi Domes, the Ramblers, and Pacers.

“ ‘Then I had this beat-up old ’32 Buick Series 90 limo. Man, I’d blow that thing out, about a mile to a quart of oil. Thought it was so fast until I found out that the speedo was reading in kilometers, not miles per hour.  We used to hang out at Gotelli’s and the old Champion Speed Shop in South City.  I met George Bignotti, who built midgets and then beautiful Indy cars. We bought some of our speed equipment over at Vic Hubbard’s in Hayward.  I also worked at Carroll McKim’s Mobil Station in high school.  It was on the corner of Fell and Baker, and we built MG racing engines. I did a 15-minute sports car show called ‘Concourse’ over at KROW in Oakland with Pat Henry, the great jazz guy.”

“As he thumbs through a stack of contact sheets from those early years, he gets even more excited. “Here’s the Top Banana from Vic Hubbard’s.  Hank Vincent was the driver. Faster than the Glass Slipper. Man, that was a neat machine. Fremont.  Here’s the Green Monster at Half Moon Bay.  Here’s the Gotelli roadster!  Here’s Jack Flaherty in his MG roadster — he was the best racer around here.” Jim later told another auto publication: “Whether it’s racing or rock ’n’ roll, it ain’t about the equipment, but it’s about the people that really captures the moment.”  And now you know where he first caught that momentous spark.

Submitted by m3jimphoto on Tue, 05/24/2011 - 9:29pm

Happy 70th Birthday, Bob!

Bob Dylan was born in Hibbing, MN 70 years ago today.  I’m listening right now to one of Jim’s favorite Dylan album’s “Blood on the Tracks,” specifically “Tangled Up in Blue,” Jim's favorite song on the album, and now one of mine.

Back in the day, Jim did a credible Dylan impersonation (how could he not with that big ole snozz, though he did have to pinch it shut tight to get just the right nasality) and was one of the first to help me understand Dylan was much, much more than just a poet who couldn't sing and wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”  Thank goodness.

To round up our month of Dylan, Amelia combed the archive to assemble this lovely assortment of Jim’s shots of Dylan from the earlier part of his career.  All of these shots, except the one from the Johnny Cash Show in 1969, were taken before Dylan “locked up the brakes”on his Triumph 100 motorcycle and crashed in Woodstock in the summer of 1966. Dylan said the crash made him realize some things and he turned his back on the “leeches” in the music business and toward his family for the better part of eight years.

Jim always said that he felt Dylan really changed (not in all ways for the better) after that crash, that things seemed to get tangled up in Dylan’s mind.  I know it left a bitter taste in Jim's mouth to lose the easy access to Dylan and the innocence of spirit he was so fortunate to capture.  I’ve always wondered what if the access had not been cut off? What if Jim could have continued to document Dylan with that same trust?  But enough with the sad “what ifs.”

Here’s to a simpler time, before things got so tangled up and to learning how to appreciate the knots when they do. Happy Birthday, Bob!

Submitted by m3jimphoto on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 11:07am

A Coat So Warm

Perhaps it’s the unseasonable cold we’ve been having lately here in the SF Bay Area, or perhaps it’s all this talk of Dylan and Baez and love and NYC in 1963, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Jim and staying warm and new beginnings.  The early ’60s was a more innocent time for Jim and Dylan. They were both full of boundless energy, promise and ambition, just beginning to do great things, dreaming of spotlights.  It was the time before fame and infamy; 1963 was also the year I was born.

It’s no secret that Jim and I always had a rocky road.  There was the very big deal of our age difference and the very different stages we were at in our lives, our individual temperaments, and the impact (mostly negative) that it had on my family.  True to his nature, he was alternately defiant and remorseful about it all.  He talked about the “dark times” and how he wanted us to be together in the light.

Meanwhile, I was struggling to pay for my last two years of college with scholarships, edit magazines, look for work, keep body and soul together. And all the while this crazy, demanding, genius of a man was asking me to marry him when he wasn’t weeping in his whiskey about his ex-wife.  It was all so romantic and overwhelming and downright possessed.

A few months after Jim gave me “Coat” he gave me this picture of him wearing it in NYC in 1963. This is what he wrote on the back of the frame. “On my birthday – 2-3-85 / For the coat I wear in this photograph shall forever be yours – as I am now & always will be – Your Jim / P.S. This photograph was taken by David Gahr about the time you were 4 or 5 months old. I love you “lots”.

To add to the challenges, Jim had very little money and virtually no assignments coming in.  It really, really bugged him that he couldn’t lavish me with fancy clothes, flowers and jewelry, wine and dine me, even though I didn’t care much one way or the other; I’m not the most materialistic bear in the woods.  And, if I do want something, I’m more than willing to go work for it myself to make it happen.  It’s just the way I was brought up.

Jim was struggling mightily just to make rent and re-build his shattered reputation and all those burned bridges with his friends, other photographers, his connections in the media and music industries, so even a night out once a month or so, say, at Washington Square Restaurant Bar & Grill or Mulhern’s in the Marina had to be calculated carefully.  And we always drove my zippy little 5-speed VW Rabbit everywhere to save wear and tear on his poor old “Truck.”

But despite it all or maybe because of it, Jim had mastered the art of the meaningful gesture, the perfect present, given with impeccable timing and lovely words.  And that was how he came to give me “Coat.”

So it’s our first Christmas together in 1984, Jim and I were going to visit one of his only real collectors at the time (who shall remain nameless to protect the obscenely wealthy).  Jim had casually tossed a heavy dark-blue wool coat I had never seen in the back seat of my VW as we headed off to see Mr. Deep Pockets in Pacific Heights, deliver him his latest prints, drink wine we couldn’t afford, that sort of thing.

After we had parked, while we were still standing on the street outside his two-story condo with the insane views of the Marina, Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, Jim told me to grab the coat from the back.  He took it from me with a flourish and held it open to reveal a patch of royal-blue satin fabric sewn onto the lining with this inscription embroidered onto it:

This coat came into
my life 3 years
before you were born
May it keep you warm
long after I am gone

"Coat" today, with Jim's lovely inscription.

It was so lovely and spare, like some of Dylan’s strongest work, where he blends simple truth with raw emotion put into only the words that were needed, nothing more.

And then I put it on. As I was a bit taller than Jim – something he never failed to delight in – it fit me perfectly.  With Jim’s trademark directness, he called it “Coat.”  Of course.  It was a simple name for a classic Abercrombie & Fitch navy wool overcoat that he bought in 1960. “Coat” was heavy, made of thick wool and incredibly warm, with the coolest hood to keep the rain and snow away.  It was 24 years old and looked brand new. At once practical and dressy and, since vintage was really kicking in at the time, also quite chic.  “Coat” was perfect.

Dylan, in his not-warm-enough coat, trying to fight the chill after they walked to the cafe in 1963.

Jim told me it was one of the first really nice pieces of clothing that he’d ever bought for himself to keep him warm doing the New York winters and now it was my turn, even though I hadn’t yet figured out how I was going to end up in NYC.  Jim said he saw me going to NYC from the moment he met me.  He knew it before I did.

He also knew that, as a typical California girl, I was going to struggle with the New York winters.  And I did, in fact, I’m convinced “Coat” was one of the few things that kept me from freezing to death on those late nights riding the A train way back uptown to my sublet in Washinton Heights before I moved down to the Village in 1987.

So what’s this all have to do with Bob Dylan?  Not so very much, I suppose, except that sewing poetry into your one great coat and then giving it to the present-perfect girl of your dreams strikes me as a very Dylan-esque thing to do.

Girl Of The North Country (excerpt)
By Bob Dylan

If you’re traveling in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was the true love of mine.

If you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see if she’s a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds.

Submitted by m3jimphoto on Wed, 05/11/2011 - 7:45pm

Bob Dylan, Joan Baez … and Jim

You can’t talk about Bob Dylan’s early career without acknowledging Joan Baez’ catalytic effect on his work, his outlook and his emotions.  They met at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village in 1961 when Baez (Joanie as Jim called her) was on tour.  The 20-year-old Baez was already a big star on the folk scene; Dylan, the same age, was just a compelling wannabe.

But the erudite Baez, already considered the “Queen of Folk,” seems to have immediately recognized his unique gifts as a lyricist and was, by all accounts, extraordinarily generous in opening doors, recording his songs and letting Dylan perform with her, even when the audience was all about her and none too thrilled about the scrawny, nasal-toned, poor man’s Pete Seeger/Woody Guthrie that Dylan was typecast as at the time.

And, even though Joan found him to be a somewhat unappetizing “urban hillbilly” and Dylan was supposedly more into Joan’s baby sister Mimi, who apparently did not return the affection, it wasn’t long before Joan and Bob were romantically involved.  The Queen now had a King, even if he wasn’t such a prince of a guy -- at the time it may have even been somewhat of a scandal as Dylan and Suze Rotolo hadn’t really broken it off.

There’s a 2009 PBS American Masters documentary on Joan that features a lovely assortment of images that attest to Jim’s own lifelong love affair with Baez (unconsummated) and also captures the Dylan and Baez romance “Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound” but in my opinion if you want still images of this mutual admiration society, look no farther than Jim’s lovely fly-on-the-wall images of Baez and Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, seen here for the first time.

Positively in Love

For another great resource to learn more about this crucial early ’60s Greenwich Village incubator that nurtured some of the most powerful collaborations in music, culture and politics, check out David Hajdu’s “Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina.

Once again, I find myself feeling that any words of mine pale in comparison to those of the people who inspired Jim’s passionate eye.  Instead, I will leave you with the artist’s work.   Dylan’s song “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word,” written in 1965 and first recorded by Baez on her 1968 album “Any Day Now.”  As far as I can tell, Dylan has never recorded this song, and he even supposedly forgot that he wrote it.  Classic.

“Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word”
By Bob Dylan

Seems like only yesterday
I left my mind behind
Down in the Gypsy Cafe
With a friend of a friend of mine
She sat with a baby heavy on her knee
Yet spoke of life most free from slavery
With eyes that showed no trace of misery
A phrase in connection first with she I heard
That love is just a four-letter word

Outside a rambling store-front window
Cats meowed to the break of day
Me, I kept my mouth shut, too
To you I had no words to say
My experience was limited and underfed
You were talking while I hid
To the one who was the father of your kid
You probably didn't think I did, but I heard
You say that love is just a four-letter word

I said goodbye unnoticed
Pushed towards things in my own games
Drifting in and out of lifetimes
Unmentionable by name
Searching for my double, looking for
Complete evaporation to the core
Though I tried and failed at finding any door I
must have thought that there was nothing more

Absurd than that love is just a four-letter word

Though I never knew just what you meant
When you were speaking to your man
I can only think in terms of me
And now I understand
After waking enough times to think I see
The Holy Kiss that's supposed to last eternity
Blow up in smoke, its destiny
Falls on strangers, travels free
Yes, I know now, traps are only set by me
And I do not really need to be
Assured that love is just a four-letter word